A Short Life

A still from Bauman's 'Teat Beat of Sex'
Like Robert Crumb with feminist sass, Signe Bauman holds nothing back. Teat Beat of Sex, the forty-four year old Latvian emigre's latest animated short, tackles the ups and downs of her sexual experiences with ribald wit and uncanny insight. Using a chapter-based structure (Bauman intends to create fifteen episodes in all), the short takes awkward situations to the extreme, and turns them into pure slapstick with a riotous visual style. A colleague of Bill Plympton, Bauman shares the veteran independent animator's belief that a filmmaker can make a living off the production of short films, so long he or she can cultivate a unique style. Indeed, the short filmmaking track has kept Bauman busy: The first couple of chapters from the Teat Beat of Sex saga screen this Sunday as a part of an ongoing series at New York's Tribeca Cinemas, followed by an inclusion in "Woman's Side of Sex: Animated" at the Millennium Film Workshop on March 22. Her work is distinctive enough to justify the time it takes. Late last year, the deadpan delivery (provided by Bauman in voiceover narration) tore down the house at the Woodstock Film Festival, where Bauman programs the animation content. "It's very popular," she admitted in a phone interview.

But even a successful filmmaking career comes with its fair share of difficult situations, and Teat Beat of Sex has encountered at least one of those. When the short was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival this January, Bauman expected to reach a massive audience outside the festival through its new deal with iTunes, Netflix, and Xbox, which offered short filmmakers the chance to get their work seen by people outside the exclusive festival circuit. iTunes, however, was a little more picky than the other outlets when it came to issues of political correctness, and they chose not to make Teat Beat of Sex available because of its graphic nature (another short, Because Washington is Hollywood for Ugly People, was omitted for being too political). Meanwhile, the short has been getting a decent audience through Netflix. Bauman thinks iTunes' decision resulted from social confusion. "They were not driven by capitalism," she said. "I think they were driven by a desire not to offend the community, but I don't know what they feel the community is."

The situation was especially frustrating for the filmmaker considering how close she came to signing an earlier distribution deal with Atom Films, which she passed up when the Sundance prospects entered the picture. "In some ways, we lost business," she said, noting that Teat Beat of Sex was the most watched entry in the online film competition for the Cannes Film Festival last year. Unlike other independent storytellers, however, Bauman isn't driven to self-distribute her work via the web. "That's a pure act of sheer despair," she said. "It's a lot of work, and it won't be the same as a recognized distribution venue." Overall, she's impressed with the prospects of digital distribution. "A filmmaker can get $20,000 for showing their film on iTunes. It's amazing," she said, adding, "I'm not envious. I wish that for everyone else. Teat Beat of Sex will find its own audience."

—Eric Kohn

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